John McCain’s Link To Death Squads and Neo-Nazis

This year the issues rather than the freak show are more likely to decide the election, but this hasn’t stopped John McCain from trying typical Republican smear tactics against Obama. The problem for McCain is that there is little substance to either the Ayers or Rezko stories, while there are past associations of McCain and Palin which are more meaningful. While Obama has avoided going this route, coverage of the extremist associations of McCain and Palin do help to minimize any harm from McCain’s smears. At very least voters will hear about such associations on both sides and decide they balance out, leaving them free to concentrate on the issues which help Obama. The rare voters who bother to look at the details will see that McCain and Palin have far more in their past to explain than Obama.

Yesterday the Keating 5 scandal was raised, and other stories have noted Sarah Palin’s association to the Alaska Independence Party. Today AP has reported on another embarrassing association for McCain:

GOP presidential nominee John McCain has past connections to a private group that supplied aid to guerrillas seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua in the Iran-Contra affair.

McCain’s ties are facing renewed scrutiny after his campaign criticized Barack Obama for his link to a former radical who engaged in violent acts 40 years ago.

The U.S. Council for World Freedom was part of an international organization linked to former Nazi collaborators and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America. The group was dedicated to stamping out communism around the globe.

The council’s founder, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, said McCain became associated with the organization in the early 1980s as McCain was launching his political career in Arizona. Singlaub said McCain was a supporter but not an active member in the group.

Sam Stein makes an argument for why this matters, providing some of the more unsavory aspects of this group’s history:

The USCWF was founded in Phoenix, Arizona in November 1981 as an offshoot of the World Anti-Communist League. The group was, from the onset, saddled with the disreputable reputation of its parent group. The WACL had ties to ultra-right figures and Latin American death squads. Roger Pearson, the chairman of the WACL, was expelled from the group in 1980 under allegations that he was a member of a neo-Nazi organization.

I doubt most voters will care to look at past history, but this is a far more significant association than Obama’s association with a 60’s radical who was no longer involved in radical activities when Obama knew him as a university professor.

Second Presidential Debate Unlikely To Change Race

The second presidential debate is tonight, with Obama going in with a strong lead. Today’s Gallup Poll has him up by nine points, tying his greatest lead. Polls also show Obama with leads in the battleground states. One indication of how poorly McCain is doing in the state races is that the the latest poll out of Indiana shows a tie. McCain’s attempts at smearing Obama are failing as the voters are more impressed by Obama’s response to the financial crisis.

The format of the debate might leave little room for it to change the race unless one of the candidates makes a major gaffe. Yesterday Lynn Sweet reviewed the rules agreed to by the candidates (but not the moderator):

Brokaw selects the questions to ask from written queries submitted prior to the debate, according to the “contract.”

An audience member will not be allowed to switch questions. Under the deal, the moderator may not ask followups or make comments. The person who asks the question will not be allowed a follow-up either, and his or her microphone will be turned off after the question is read. A camera shot will only be shown of the person asking — not reacting.

While there will be director’s chairs (with backs and foot rests), McCain and Obama will be allowed to stand — but they can’t roam past their “designated area” to be marked on the stage. McCain and Obama are not supposed to ask each other direct questions.

While the rules seem to prevent follow up questions, Ben Smith reports that moderator Tom Brokaw was not a party to this agreement and therefore the campaigns are preparing for possible follow up questions.

Questions from the audience at a Town Hall are expected to be predictable and each candidate will probably wind up repeating their main themes. Some things Obama should say:

  • After all the publicity of Sarah Palin outright saying she would not answer the questions as asked, Obama might make a point early in the debate of telling the audience he will be happy to respond to their questions–and will continue to make a practice of responding to questions as president. Make openness an issue.
  • He’s said it plenty of times before, but Obama cannot repeat enough that his tax proposals will not increase taxes on those making under $250,000 per year, and that he offers the middle class a larger tax cut than McCain.
  • Continue to hit on health care. In addition to his current criticism, Obama should also point out that McCain plans to cut Medicare and that McCain’s goal is to cut health care costs by shifting a greater portion of the cost to individuals.
  • If McCain dares to repeat his recent smears such as those regarding Ayers and Rezko, quickly return the discussion to the economy after a brief comment that McCain and Palin have far more meaningful associations which might taint them. Obama can leave it to surrogates and the press to bring out the details.

Business Groups Join Opposition To McCain Health Care Plan

John McCain’s health care plan is being opposed by many business organizations who realize that his plan would be harmful to them, along with being harmful to their employees. The New York Times reports:

American business, typically a reliable Republican cheerleader, is decidedly lukewarm about Senator John McCain’s proposal to overhaul the health care system by revamping the tax treatment of health benefits, officials with leading trade groups say.

The officials, with organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Federation of Independent Business, predicted in recent interviews that the McCain plan, which eliminates the exclusion of health benefits from income taxes, would accelerate the erosion of employer-sponsored health insurance and do little to reduce the number of uninsured from 45 million…

Mr. Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, opened his assault two weeks ago by telling crowds that Mr. McCain “wants to tax your health benefits.” He did not explain that Mr. McCain, the Republican nominee, would offer tax credits in exchange to cover the increased liability for many Americans.

Over the weekend, Mr. Obama more accurately characterized the McCain plan as a swap but one that would work to the detriment of millions. Middle-class families, he said, would “watch the system they rely on begin to unravel before their eyes.”

The business leaders said that was also their fear. Despite steady declines this decade, employers still provide coverage to 62 percent of Americans younger than 65. Surveys show that they want to continue doing so to attract and maintain a productive workforce.

The business leaders forecast that Mr. McCain’s free-market approach would impose particular burdens on small businesses and old-line manufacturers that are already struggling.

“To some in the business community, this is very discomforting,” said R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the Chamber of Commerce. “The private marketplace, in my opinion, is ill prepared today with an infrastructure for an individual-based health insurance system.”

Health economists are ideologically divided over Mr. McCain’s plan. Analysts who support it project that it might provide coverage to 25 million people, while critics predict that the number of newly insured would peak at five million and then decline.

Though Mr. McCain says his plan would not add to federal spending, the Tax Policy Center has estimated that it will cost at least $1.3 trillion over 10 years. And while right-leaning economists emphasize that the plan would provide a tax cut for the average American, opponents respond that certain high-earners will face an increase and that some in the middle class may break even only by reducing their coverage…

Yesterday The Wall Street Journal reported that McCain would pay for the plan by cutting Medicare and Medicaid spending.

Officials with eight business trade groups contacted by The New York Times predicted the McCain plan would raise costs and force some employers to stop providing health benefits.

A recent survey of 187 corporate executives by the American Benefits Council and Miller & Chevalier, a consulting firm, found that three-fourths felt the repeal of the tax exclusion would have a “strong negative impact” on their workers. Only 4 percent said they would provide additional pay to fill any gaps.

John J. Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, an association of leading chief executive officers, said his group instead supported extending the tax exclusion to those who bought coverage on their own.

“One of the things we don’t want to do,” Mr. Castellani said, “is jeopardize 170 million Americans who do get insurance through their employers.”

A number of business officials are worried that Mr. McCain’s tax credits would lure young and healthy workers into the individual market to take advantage of cheaper, less-generous policies. That, they say, would leave employers to cover an older and sicker pool of workers, forcing up premiums.

Workers who found that they had less buying power with the tax credits than with the tax exclusion could be expected to pressure employers to raise salaries or benefit subsidies, the business officials said.

“There are huge questions about the $5,000 per family being an insufficient amount in terms of being able to purchase the same coverage,” said Mr. Josten with the Chamber of Commerce.

Helen B. Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, a coalition of 300 companies, agreed that many workers would face a net loss. “The last thing you want to do to the average working person, especially when you’re bailing out big financial companies, is take something they hold near and dear partially away,” Ms. Darling said.

Economists forecast that the problem would worsen over time because Mr. McCain, according to advisers, would index his tax credits to overall inflation. Health insurance premiums have grown four times faster than inflation since 1999.

James A. Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, said concern that the tax credits would not keep up with inflation was a primary reason his 280 member companies “take a very dim view” of repealing the tax exclusion.

Mr. McCain theorizes that if the government’s subsidization of health care is capped, consumers will cut back on their use of the system, slowing the growth in spending. But critics worry that he overestimates his ability to control health costs, and that a growing number of people will find they cannot obtain traditional coverage.

These objections to McCain’s plan from business groups are similar to the objections raised by The Commonwealth Fund and in a recent article by Jane Bryant Quinn.